IT appears that new life is about to be injected into St Lucia’s banana industry.
Three days before last week’s general elections, new Prime Minister Allen Chastanet held preliminary discussions with three banana officials from neighbouring Martinique that have created new interest in the local industry.
The discussions with Eric de Lucy, Nicolas des Grottes and Pierre Monteux in respect of restoring the once lucrative banana industry have moved rather quickly and THE VOICE understands that representatives of the island’s new partner, from BananaMart in Martinique, are presently here carrying out an economical survey that involves looking at all banana farms on island.
Next Friday, Agriculture Minister Ezekiel Joseph will head a local delegation to Fort de France, Martinique to obtain a full glance of the major banana cultivations there so that St Lucia’s farmers can replicate the high quality of fruit being achieved by the French farmers.
A source close to the new initiative told THE VOICE yesterday: “With the joint technical assistance of Taiwan and the French team, St Lucia is well poised to meet the standard of the European Union. Once the format for addressing the way forward has been completed, a new dawn for St Lucia will emerge”.
It is understood that subsequent to the Martinique visit, Minister Joseph and his team will receive a formal invitation from the Directors of Bananamart of Martinique to visit their distribution centre at Dunkirk, France later this month to fully acquaint and appreciate the distribution system of this French organisation.
Said our source: “The exciting side of this association is threefold. First, the French need our bananas urgently; second St. Lucia needs the foreign exchange and the jobs for our 12,000 farmers who are presently unemployed and thirdly it is interesting to note that the farmers will be represented by Bananamart and payment for their fruit will be made directly by the French supermarkets with no middleman other than a standard commission for the representative – Bananamart.
“Once St. Lucia is spared of any hurricane ravages this year, our farmers can look forward to a windfall within nine months. Bananamart are willing to make their technical services available in the first year to ensure that our farmers follow the guidelines prescribed to attain a super quality and a better price for their fruit”.
The new banana initiative comes at a time when Martinique has joined the OECS grouping and is seeking to build on long standing relationships with the English-speaking Caribbean.
“For years both Martiniquans and St. Lucians have wondered why our trading skills were not fostered beyond the limited services of visitor arrivals, the haphazard migration of St. Lucians settling illegally and the spasmodic health care for special persons”, our source said. “With Martinique, Guadeloupe and other French Caribbean nations joining the OECS we could be looking at a new association without bounds”.
St Lucia was once the leading banana exporter in the subregion with a record export crop of over 170,000 tonnes in the early 1990s. However, new market conditions, high production costs, diseases and ravages by adverse weather have combined to decimate the banana industry which once was St Lucia’s economic mainstay.